Friday, July 2, 2010

When Work Doesn’t Count

I filed an application seeking Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits for a client who stated that he became disabled in 2005. I received a partially favorable decision today from ALJ Seymour Fier that approved the claimant’s application as of March 2008. This presents a perfect example of the type of partially favorable decision that should be appealed.

As an initial matter, instead of 2005, ALJ Fier erroneously stated that the claimant’s onset date was December 2003. ALJ Fier then concluded that the claimant never performed substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) after December 2003, and that he lacked the ability to perform sedentary work. A person is allowed to work without it affecting their right to SSD benefits as long as the work does not constitute SGA.

The claimant testified that he did some very limited work between 2005 and March 2008, and he supplied earnings records showing that the work was not SGA. Nonetheless, even though ALJ Fier admitted that the work was not SGA, he only approved benefits as of March 2008.

ALJ Fier’s decision is clearly wrong. Accepting his findings that the claimant did not engage in SGA after the onset date, and could not do sedentary work, requires reversal. It appears that ALJ Fier hoped that the claimant would be satisfied with a partially favorable decision, and would forfeit his right to SSD benefits prior to March 2008. The reasons behind a partially favorable decision should always be scrutinized.

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